By Uri Avnery / Antiwar.com
September 2, 2017
“When you were writing your book, did you ever think about the similarities between the Crusaders and the modern Zionists?” [the author inquired.]
“Actually, I hardly thought about anything else. I wanted to subtitle the book ‘A Guidebook For the Zionist About How Not To Do It,’ but my Jewish friends advised me to abstain from doing so.”
— British Historian Seven Runciman
A few days ago I found myself in Caesarea, sitting in a restaurant and looking out over the sea. The sunbeams were dancing on the little waves, the mysterious ruins of the ancient town arrayed behind me. It was hot, but not too hot, and I was thinking about the crusaders.
Caesarea was built by King Herod some 2000 years ago and named after his Roman master, Augustus Caesar. It once again became an important town under the Crusaders, who fortified it. These fortifications are what now makes the place a tourist attraction.
For some years in my life I was obsessed with the Crusaders. It started during the 1948 “War of Independence,” when I chanced to read a book about the crusaders and found that they had occupied the same locations opposite the Gaza strip which my battalion was occupying. It took the crusaders several decades to conquer the strip, which at the time extended to Ashkelon. Today it is still there in Muslim hands.
After the war, I read everything I could about these Crusaders. The more I read, the more fascinated I became. So much so, that I did something I have never done before or after: I wrote a letter to the author of the most authoritative book about the period, the British historian Steven Runciman.
To my surprise, I received a handwritten reply by return of post, inviting me to come and see him when I happened to be in London. I happened to be in London a few weeks later and called him up. He insisted I come over immediately.
Like almost everyone who fought against the British in Palestine, I was an anglophile. Runciman, a typical British aristocrat with all the quaint idiosyncrasies that go with it, was very likable.
We talked for hours, and continued the conversation when my wife and I visited him later in an ancient Scottish fortress on the border with England. Rachel, who was even more anglophile than I, almost fell in love with him.
What we talked about was a subject I brought up at the very start of our first meeting: “When you were writing your book, did you ever think about the similarities between the Crusaders and the modern Zionists?”
Runciman answered: “Actually, I hardly thought about anything else. I wanted to subtitle the book A Guidebook For the Zionist About How Not To Do It.” And after a short laugh: “But my Jewish friends advised me to abstain from doing so.”
Indeed, it is almost taboo in Israel to talk about the crusades.